Avocado exports: The green gold for Kenya

Avocados for export. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Known as the Green Gold Mine of the country, Kenya’s avocado is slowly emerging as a key contributor to economic growth.

Last year, it accounted up to 17 percent of total horticultural exports. This has made Kenya to be ranked as one of the top-producing avocado countries in the world and is now competing with countries like the United States of America, Mexico, and Colombia.

During a recent Avocado Stakeholders' Forum in Nairobi, many small-scale farmers shared experiences on how the avocado industry is opening many doors for them and exposing them to new markets.

Organised by the USAid Strategic Partnership Program (USP) and the Fresh Produce Consortium of Kenya (FPC-Kenya) in partnership with Strathmore University Business School, the forum focused on discussing quality standards and compliance prerequisites in the avocado industry.

Various stakeholders in the avocado industry were able to learn from each other. But what came out clearly was that even though the large players in the sector have dominated the market for a long time, there is a need to include the small-scale farmers who are now contributing to the growth of the avocado export.

This is because they are becoming a major contributor to the production of the crop, hence, the need to address all the hindrances that are slowing down the production and export of Avocados.

With the increase of small-scale farmers in avocado farming in the last three years, many regions in Kenya are now growing avocados as an export product.

For example, in the North Rift, Nyanza, and Western Kenya regions many farmers are now only focusing on avocado. This has made the experts to predict that the production volume might increase to almost 20 percent by the end of this year.

Tis expectation also came out clearly the conference when an avocado exporter from Nakuru County said: ‘’Avocado farming has improved my livelihood. The money I get from selling the product makes me meet my basic needs, while at the same time helps me to look at the bigger markets.’’

But for the sector to be sustainable, there is a need for small-scale farmers in the avocado industry to be trained and be advised on the best practices of avocado production. This is aligned with the USP mandate to champion the empowerment of the private sector through capacity building and training of producer cooperatives and business associations which can be used to build resilient and sustainable businesses for social-economic transformation.

Consequently, various partners and stakeholders must collaborate in connecting the farmers with ready markets and in introducing the best technologies to ensure high-quality harvesting, storage, and transportation.

According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation Corporate Statistical- (FAOSTAT)- Database, Kenya’s avocado production in Kenya has been rising steadily over the years. If sustained, it would contribute to the economic revitalisation of the nation and promote food security.

Besides exportation, avocado provides high nutritious bioactive content which has several health benefits to millions of Kenyans. In recent times, avocado by-products (peels and seeds) which are otherwise discarded to the environment are now being tapped by the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries.

But despite the lucrative opportunities that the sector provides, the avocado industry is still facing many challenges that are likely to threaten its growth. For instance, in November 2023, the Horticulture Crops Directorate (HCDA) suspended the export of Hass, Pinkerton, Fuerte, and Jumbo varieties by sea. The decision was aimed at addressing concerns about immature fruits being shipped, impacting the fruit's ripening process, and tarnishing Kenya's fruit reputation in global markets.

Therefore, for Kenya to capitalise on the global avocado boom project, the success of the industry hinges on the adherence to quality standards and inclusive policies. The efforts by both government and private sector initiatives are crucial in ensuring that Kenya's avocados remain a sought-after commodity in the international market.

And the various sector leads and stakeholders must also find a way to strike a balance between quality assurance and standards and sustainable policies and practices that will ensure high production and high-quality avocados in the local, regional, and global markets.

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